Requests to Board of Trustees for various information
Requests to School Board of Trustees for various information—some refused on grounds it either did not exist or could not be found—failure to respond to request for some information—difficulties in progressing investigation—meeting with parties to resolve outstanding issues—Board justified in refusing some information—some information subject to Privacy Act—some information not official information ‘held’ by Board
This case involved three separate requests made to a school Board of Trustees. The first request was for copies of agendas, correspondence lists, principal’s reports and minutes of certain meetings of the Board as well as the confirmed minutes of certain management group/community meetings. In a second request, the complainants asked for certain information about a school trip undertaken four years previously, namely dates and modes of travel and the itinerary of the trip including dates and activities. The third request asked for a mixture of personal and official information relating to the requesters and their children. In addition the requesters sought comment on and explanations for certain events involving them and members of the Board at the time. The Board did not respond to the third request and in terms of section 28(4) of the OIA, this failure to respond was deemed to be a refusal to make the requested information available.
On notification of the complaints relating to the first two requests, the Board responded by providing some of the information requested, namely the minutes of several Board meetings and meetings between the Commissioner appointed to replace the Board during part of 1994 and the school community committee. The Board’s response did not refer to or give any reason or explanation why the remaining information requested had not been provided. A further report was sought from the Board relating to the remaining information. The Board advised that a thorough search for some of the information had been made without success, that some items requested did not in fact exist, and that the only information the Board held relating to the school trip had already been given to the complainants previously.
At this point, the complaint relating to the third request was notified to the Board. The Board’s response was that it did not wish to be involved any further with the investigations and suggested that any further inquiries be addressed to the Ministry of Education. Some inquiries were made of the Education Review Office and of the local Member of Parliament, with whom the complainants had corresponded over a long period on various issues concerning the school. While helpful, these inquiries did not advance matters and as it appeared that the investigations had now reached a stalemate, it was suggested that a meeting be held with the parties to explore possibilities for resolving the remaining matters in dispute. This offer was accepted by the parties and a meeting was held at which full and equal opportunity was given to each party to see if some resolution of the longstanding dispute could be achieved. The information which remained at issue was considered item by item.
With respect to the first two requests, the view was formed that the Board had been entitled to rely on section 18(e) for refusing the request because the information either did not exist or could not be found. As to the third request, it became apparent that some of the information was personal information about the complainants and was therefore subject to the Privacy Act, not the OIA. The remaining information sought under the third request was for comment on or explanations about certain events. It was not information ‘held’ by the Board. Rather it would have involved the creation of new information. As such it was not official information in terms of the OIA. The requesters accepted these findings.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.